From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall
Wilson McGunnegle '53

Date of birth: August 23, 1829

Date of death: April 2, 1863

Age: 33


From Find A Grave:

Lieutenant, U.S.N. McGunnegle was ordered to take command of the gunboat USS St. Louis near Memphis on the Mississippi River. Soon after, he found himself in charge of a small squadron of gunboats operating on the White River in Arkansas. This came about when the squadron commander's gunboat, the USS Mound City, suffered a direct hit that killed many of the crew & officers.

McGunnegle died of consumption while on assignment to Annapolis, Maryland.


From researcher Kathy Franz:

Wilson was the eldest of five children born to George Kennedy and Elizabeth Easton Starr McGunnegle. His father was a renowned St. Louis businessman who later served in the Missouri and US House of Representatives. Wilson was recommended to attend West Point at the age of 16. He enlisted in the Navy on December 10, 1845, and served until his death in 1863. In 1850 on the Preble, he was a witness for the prosecution in the court martial of Henry Ward, acting gunner. Robert Reid, steward, had removed a desk filled with Chinese articles and stolen goods which were sold for gold at the Thistle Inn in Benicia, California. Robert then deserted. Ward was acquitted of any complicity with Reid. In August 1851, Wilson was too sick to return to the Naval Academy.

Wilson graduated from the Naval Academy in 1853 and married Isabella Ray on September 5. He served on the steam frigate Sarnac 1853-55, the Preble 1855, the Falmouth 1855-56, and the Corwin 1857. Wilson taught at the Naval Academy 1858-60 and served on the sloop Cyane in 1861. In December, he needed to have a health exam for continued duty.

In March 1862, he was ordered to command the St Louis (later known as Baron de Kalb). His ship was part of the convoy that went up the White River in Arkansas. On June 15 near St Charles, the Mound City’s steam drum was damaged from Confederate gunfire. Because of the scalding vapors, the men jumped into the water, but the Confederates kept shooting them. Wilson later wrote of the Mound City’s ranking officer: “I deemed it best to send Mr. Dominy up to Memphis; not that he did not perform his duty well but simply for a change. He having witnessed the terrible catastrophe, his mind appeared to be greatly exercised.” In September Wilson was in Cairo, Illinois, when he received a letter from Commodore C. H. Davis about another medical exam needed.

Wilson was awaiting orders in 1863 because of his sickness. On April 2, 1863, he died at his residence on Main Street, Annapolis, of consumption. A newspaper wrote: “He was in every sense of the term a perfect gentleman, possessing the happy faculty of winning the respect and admiration of all who enjoyed his acquaintance.” Another newspaper wrote: “All too soon for his fame, but not unexpected by his friends, who had watched the frail tenure by which his life was prolonged … and those who know his history on shipboard, bear testimony to his application, his perfection in the discipline of his profession, his prompt and ready discharge of every duty, his excellent habits, and his cheerful and agreeable disposition.”

Wilson is in the book The Ironclad Captains of the Civil War. His cemetery monument is extraordinarily detailed, and a description of it is available at: http://stlouispatina.com/wilson-mcgunnegle-monument/

On October 20, 1882, Wilson’s widow married Major Marcus A. Reno of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. She filed for divorce in 1888, and he filed in February 1889. He died on March 30, 1889, of pneumonia after surgery for cancer of the tongue.


From the Naval History and Heritage Command:

Midshipman, 10 December, 1845. Passed Midshipman, 10 June, 1853. Master, 15 September, 1855. Lieutenant, 16 September, 1855. Lieutenant Commander, 16 July, 1862. Died 2 April, 1863.

Memorial Hall Error

Illness is not a criteria for inclusion in Memorial Hall.

Class of 1853

Wilson is one of 9 members of the Class of 1853 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

QR code

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of alumni in Memorial Hall.